Chelsea Under-18s wrote their name into FA Youth Cup history following another special night in the competition for our youngsters at the Emirates.
The Blues secured their fifth successive triumph, a seventh title in nine years, with their biggest ever victory in a final. A 3-1 first leg advantage over Arsenal was extended with four further goals without reply in north London, culminating in a 7-1 aggregate win that saw Jody Morris and his players return the Youth Cup trophy to Cobham, where it remains firmly part of the furniture.
Morris collected his fourth winners medal, a second as manager following two preceding campaigns as assistant, and our former midfielder reflected afterwards on a performance that lacked a spark before he challenged the players to win in style.
‘It was an emphatic victory in the end but it certainly didn’t feel that way at half-time,’ he said. ‘I was bored in the first half, our tempo was slow and our quality on the ball was lackadaisical. It was almost flat even when we scored and there were too many people on the pitch who took their foot off the gas after that first goal went in so I challenged the boys at half-time to not just crawl over the line but to make a bit of history in style.
‘To their credit, the lads were much better in the second half and when Arsenal had to take a few more risks to chase the goals, obviously some gaps appeared that we were able to exploit.’
Billy Gilmour’s strike had opened the scoring before Callum Hudson-Odoi bagged a brace, his ninth and 10th goals in the cup run this term, either side of a smart finish from substitute Tino Anjorin. A seventh clean sheet from eight games this campaign also meant the Blues finished with just one goal conceded from the third round onwards.
It was a perfect response to the disappointment felt by many of the same players just a week previously, when our Under-19s were beaten by Barcelona in the UEFA Youth League final.
‘It’s not nice to lose and particularly the way we lost in the Under-19s final so we tried to freshen things up a little bit with our team selection for the first leg,’ Morris went on. ‘We also had in mind not just these two games against Arsenal over a four-day period but the national league final we play against Man United at the weekend, which is just as important for us.‘
We maybe didn’t sense the opportunity to be as ruthless and go for the throat in the first half but overall our performance in the final over the two legs has been pleasing and I’m extremely proud of the lads.’
The fantastic five-in-a-row has been the epitome of a team effort, with three different coaches leading the teams and so many players involved along the way. It was, therefore, the collective contribution that Morris paid tribute to in his assessment of our achievement in emulating Manchester United’s famous Busby Babes, while also remembering two former colleagues and friends who would certainly have enjoyed the spectacle at the Emirates.
‘There’s a lot of work that’s gone on at the Academy for years that’s enabled us to do this and we’re all aware of the feat we’ve achieved to win it five times in a row,’ continued Morris. ‘It means a huge amount. I understand the history of the competition, I played in it myself as a youth team player and I’ve watched friends win it.‘
We’ve had some fantastic recent history in it, helped by people like Dermot Drummy who started this period of success, and also supported by people like Ray Wilkins. It was only a few rounds back that he texted me after a game to say well done and that shows even people of Ray’s era know what the Youth Cup means.
‘Even when we were celebrating with the Chelsea fans at the end, I saw somebody holding a ‘Ray Wilkins’ scarf so it can hit home at times and we were definitely thinking of those two tonight.’